july 29, 2020 BY MARKIE HAGEMAN

Conserving Sierra Valley’s Scenic Beauty for Future Generations

Sierra County is filled with majestic mountain tops, fertile valleys, and vast working lands. Considered one of the most scenic ranches in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Maddalena Ranch consists of 743-acres of working rangeland. The ranch is located in the southwestern part of the Sierra Valley where the California Rangeland Trust has conserved over 29,000 acres of open space.  

The Maddalenas partnered with the Rangeland Trust in 2011 to conserve 743 acres of their ranch

Cindy Maddalena’s father-in-law purchased the land in the 1950’s, and she agrees that it is just as scenic as people say. “It sits up against the mountain, there’s a lot of meadow, and we have creeks that run year-round. The ranches around us are in easements, so it’s just wide-open meadows. It’s just beautiful.”  

Cindy Maddelana pushes a heard of cattle through a pasture of lush green grass
Cindy Maddalena moves cows across their scenic, Sierra County ranch

The meadows, natural wetlands, marshes, tules, ponds, and year-round springs provide valuable habitat for the wildlife and angus cattle that call the ranch home. Records show three significant species recorded on the ranch, including the sticky pyrocoman, Plumas ivesia, and bald eagle.

“In the fall, we’ll gather cows and the bald eagles will follow us. They’re gorgeous. They’ll sit on the post, or they sit on the telephone poles and just watch us.”

The Maddalena’s originally inherited the land from Cindy’s father-in-law after he passed. Cindy and her late husband, Tony, partnered with the Rangeland Trust to conserve their portion of the ranch in 2011.

Tony had a strong love for the land and all that called it home. Darrel Sweet, founding member of the California Rangeland Trust Board of Directors and current Emeritus Council member, recalled one of his favorite memories on the Maddalena Ranch. 

In years past, it was common for land stewards to remove willow trees along the banks of streams and rivers because they believed the trees were prohibiting water flow. There were even government programs that offered grants to aid in removal efforts. However, Tony realized that without the willow trees lining the streams, the fish population had begun to diminish.

Tony decided to replant willow trees on his property in hopes of increasing wildlife populations. When he did, he noticed a return of the willow fly catcher, a native bird that had disappeared off the land, as well as an increase in the trout population.

In the late ’90s, Darrel was asked to lead a representative from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on a visit to a few ranches in the Sierra Valley, one of which was the Maddalena Ranch. This was about the time discussions were taking place to form what would eventually become the Rangeland Trust in 1998. After seeing the efforts that Tony had done to restore the wildlife habitat, the representative told Sweet, “This is why ranchers need to start their own land trust.”

It’s because of the creation of the Rangeland Trust, in combination with landowner efforts, like the Maddalena’s, that future generations will be able to enjoy the land. Cindy feels a responsibility to ensure this.

“I feel like I am the caretaker because it was my father-in-law’s ranch, and one day it will be my kid’s ranch, and I hope it can stay in the family as long as it can. It’s just home.” 

Cindy’s daughter and her husband live and work on the ranch with their two children, while their son, his wife, and their two children live in Chico.

Even though Cindy’s father-in-law is no longer around to see the land, she knows he would love how little the land has changed since he purchased it decades ago. “I go out there and say, ‘Louie, I wish you could see the place!’ I think he would be very happy with the conservation easement decision, because we work hard to keep it maintained, and it looks so much like it did before, and I think he would be very pleased.”

The Maddalena’s wanted to place a conservation easement on the land for many reasons, which Cindy believes has worked out well for them.

Cows graze on the lush green grass of the Maddalena Ranch
The conservation agreement on the Maddalena Ranch ensures that the land will remain intact and just as it is forever

“The easement we have [with the Rangeland Trust] is so easy. They do what they say. Everything they say happens. I see the monitoring person once a year. It is simple, and it’s exactly as they said it was. It works for all of us.”

Their reasons for conserving their land includes:

  • Maintain the substantial wildlife and habitat values, as well as the riparian and wetland values
  • Maintain the abundant water which is important to the ranch and downstream users
  • Maintain the scenic qualities of the land
  • Maintain the open space and historical values
  • Protect the ranch from threatening residential growth in the Tahoe/Truckee area
  • Keep the ranch in the family and in agricultural production.